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The East meets West at Furukawa Gardens

by Natsuko Fukue and Satoko Kawasaki

The well-preserved early 20th century Furukawa Gardens in Kita Ward, Tokyo, boasts a British-style house on a hilltop overlooking a harmonious marriage of Western and Japanese landscaping.

A Western rose garden sits on the hill and a Japanese garden graces the lower level, retaining the features of early Taisho Era (1912-1926) gardens in their original forms.

The gardens and house were once owned by Baron Toranosuke Furukawa (1887-1940), the third-generation head of the renowned Furukawa zaibatsu.

The land used to be the property of Munemitsu Mutsu, a diplomat in the Meiji Era in the 19th century, but it was handed to the Furukawa family when Mutsu’s second son was adopted into the family.

The Furukawa zaibatsu owned the Ashio copper mine in Tochigi Prefecture, known for the copper pollution that affected nearby rice fields and mountains.

One of the highlights of the site is the Japanese garden designed by Jihei Ogawa, the Kyoto gardener also known as Ueji.

The Shin-ji pond rests in the center of the garden. It got its name because it resembles the word, or “ji,” for “heart” (“shin”) in kanji.

Across the pond, one can see a “karetaki” dry waterfall created with granite and other rocks. Karetaki is one of the elements of “karesansui,” a Japanese rock garden representing mountains and water using rocks and gravel.

There is also an active waterfall named Otaki (Big Waterfall) near the pond, where the garden’s slope is at its steepest. It is about 10 meters high and Ueji made it look like it is set deep in a mountain.

The house, built in 1917, and the rose garden were designed by British architect Josiah Conder, who had a major influence on Japan’s modern architecture. His works include the Rokumeikan hall and the Holy Resurrection Cathedral, also known as Nikolai-do, in Tokyo.

The house follows in the style of classic British aristocratic residences, with the facade featuring andesite stones. It accommodated survivors of the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923.

Furukawa Gardens is a seven-minute walk from Kaminakazato Station on the JR Keihin Tohoku Line and 12 minutes on foot from Komagome Station on the JR Yamanote Line.

The gardens are open to the public from 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., but people who wish to visit the house can take a guided one-hour tour in Japanese. Those interested are asked to inquire at (03) 3910-8440.

Admission is ¥150 for adults and ¥70 for those aged 65 or older. There is no fee for children 12 and under or junior high school students from Tokyo.